Nigeria Friday announced the first confirmed case of the novel coronavirus in sub-Saharan Africa.
The case is an Italian citizen who works in Nigeria and returned from Milan earlier this week, Health Minister Osagie Ehanire said in a statement on Twitter.
“The patient is clinically stable, with no serious symptoms, and is being managed at the Infectious Diseases Hospital in Yaba, Lagos,” Ehanire said.
Italy has become a hotbed of infection in recent days, with the largest outbreak in Europe.
But the low number of cases across Africa, which has close economic ties with China — the epicentre of the deadly outbreak — has puzzled health specialists.
Prior to the case in Nigeria, there had been just two cases across the continent — in Egypt and Algeria.
The World Health Organisation warned earlier this week that African health systems were ill-equipped to respond should cases start to proliferate on the continent.
However, Ehanire said the government had been working to ensure an outbreak is “controlled and contained quickly”.
“I wish to assure all Nigerians that … we have been beefing up our preparedness capabilities since the first confirmation of cases in China,” he said.
“We have already started working to identify all the contacts of the patient since he entered Nigeria.”
The outbreak, which began in December, has already killed more than 2,800 people and infected more than 78,000 in China.
WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said the spread of the virus to countries with weaker health systems was “our biggest concern”.
“These patients require intensive care using equipment such as respiratory support machines that are, as you know, in short supply in many African countries and that’s a cause for concern,” he said.
Several African carriers, including Kenya Airways, have suspended flights to China, although the continent’s biggest airline, Ethiopian Airlines, has kept its China routes open.